CSS Research and Policy Seminar with Nils Hägerdal

Nils Hägerdal presented his new working paper, “U.S. Military Intervention in Oil-Producing States,” at the CSS Research and Policy Seminar on April 1. The paper proposes a new argument for why a small number of oil-producing states in the Middle East have played host to a large proportion of U.S. interventions since the 1970s.

Hägerdal argues that the behavior of colonial governments in the region contributed to the development of revolutionary domestic regimes in certain states. When those revolutionary regimes accessed their nations’ oil wealth after 1973, this new-found economic power upset the stability of a region the United States had decided to maintain. Thus, U.S. intervention did not target all oil-producing states, but only the ones that applied new oil wealth to revolutionary goals.  

Hägerdal uses new data from the Military Intervention Project to show that both certain aspects of the colonial experience predict revolutionary regimes and access to oil wealth and the rise of revolutionary regimes predict intervention by the United States. He also carries out a paired case comparison of Libya and Saudi Arabia to explore how colonial legacies made Libya more likely to become a revolutionary state, and how, because of this, Libya challenged U.S. interests in the region, leading to more interventions against it. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, did not develop this form of regime, so the oil wealth it gained did not prompt U.S. intervention.

Participants discussed how to refine the theoretical argument to take into consideration the United States’ dislike of revisionist states that challenge for regional hegemony. Further comments focused on specifics of the case studies and asked Hägerdal to provide more detail on the development of the regional order and the nature of the revolutionary regimes in the Middle East. Others suggested the argument could be improved by extending the scope of the study to the aftermath of the Suez crisis in order to provide a more holistic understanding of U.S. intervention and engagement in the region and offer context for how the oil shock changed pre-existing relationships and sparked more intervention. Overall the discussion was lively, and the promise of a new exciting academic article made for a great event. 

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